Title: Black Hawk Tattoo
Author: Aundrea Singer
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Art: Reese Dante
Buy Link: Amazon.com Black Hawk Tattoo
Genre: contemporary m/m
Length: 318 pdf pages
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A moving and hopeful hurt/comfort tale where, for once, love doesn’t heal all wounds (though it certainly helps…)
The Blurb: Toronto artist Gabriel Navarro splits his time between slinging ink and working on his master’s degree. He’s sure of his beliefs and his artistic integrity and naïve enough to think he’ll never compromise—until Iraq war veteran Jake MacLean shows up in his tattoo parlor.
Overcome with anger and survivor’s guilt, Jake is locked in a struggle to atone for sins he’s sure will never be forgiven. Desperate to get his life back on track and with nowhere else to go, he moves in with his sister in Toronto. He doesn’t expect to fall for Gabe.
Though Jake’s refusal to talk about what happened in Iraq frustrates Gabe, accepting Jake’s claims that he’s “fine” is easier than dealing with the truth. But pretty soon it’s clear Jake can’t control his panic attacks, and his condition is worsening. If Gabe can’t help him face his demons, Jake is headed for a crash—and there’s every chance he’ll take Gabriel down with him.
I’ve read quite a few books lately where one character suffered from war-induced PTSD, but it was in this book where I really “got” it for the first time. Jake is in it way over his head, so deep that he is unable to grab the hands extended to him, much less ask for help on his own accord. The surreal thing is, he is aware of that fact and feels bad about it, but still can’t force himself to accept that he might be unable to overcome the trauma and guilt by himself. But why? Is it some kind of passivity that comes with the disorder in itself? Is it a mislead sense of male pride? Is it some deeply rooted fear to trust other people since he’s been let down once to many? All of the above, and more, as the reader gradually learns over the course of the story. At any rate, in his desperate effort to find some kind of closure, Jake comes up with the idea to wear the root of all his problems as a permanent fixture–read: a tattoo–on his back. And this is how Jake and Gabe come to cross paths.
Gabe is an artist first of all. He lives, breathes, thinks and dreams art, his pictures are how he expresses himself, how he connects with people and how he makes a living. At first, Jake’s tattoo is mostly something of a fascinating professional challenge for Gabe, even if his interest in Jake is anything but purely professional right from the beginning. But as the two get to know each other better, Gabe finds himself facing a moral and emotional dilemma that gets worse the deeper his feelings for Jake become. Gabe can see how very troubled Jake is, he tries to help Jake in every possible way. But it’s always one step forward, two steps back with Jake. Gradually, Gabe comes to the realization that he and Jake can’t carry on like this forever. If they can’t figure out a way for Jake to heal, they might both break under the strain. Literally, since it’s not impossible that someone might get physically harmed–or worse.
I was impressed with the characterizations in this book. Mainly with Jake and Gabe, since both are so lovingly drawn, well-wrought and realistic. Jake may be caught in a vicious cycle of guilt, nightmares, sleep-deprivation and depression, but he’s still capable of falling in love with Gabe, of feeling affection and responsibility for his family and friends. Gabe is used to cutting his own path, headfirst though walls if necessary, but Jake’s stonewalling confuses and irritates him to the point of giving up. But Gabe is not averse to seeing his own mistakes and learning from them. He and Jake go through an admirable growth over the course of the story, in conjunction with each other and together, and I could really see them share a future.
The secondary cast was well-drawn too, particularly Jake’s sister, one of the most complex females I’ve met in m/m romance so far. She has a story of her own, carries guilt and trauma and problems of her own in spades–in a way, she’s the least suited person imaginable to take care of Jake. And yet, at the same time she was the only one who loved him enough to care about him at all. For this once, the caretaking family member isn’t portrayed as either a saint or a bitch. Alice is a real person who worries about Jake but also loses patience with him, who guilt-trips and nags and bullies Jake but also stands up for him and would always have his back if he’d but let her. The relationship between the siblings is as complex and multi-layered as their respective characters; I found this awesomely well done and again, totally life-like.
The romance between Gabe and Jake was inextricably interwoven with Jake’s struggle with PTSD, the latter was actually the former’s front, back and center. Up to the crucial plot turn where Jake’s focus turned away from his self to their them, from his past to their future. I thought this particular scene the strongest in the book and the weakest at the same time, since I couldn’t quite fathom where Gabe found the wisdom and maturity to act and talk like he did. However, the pitfall of “love conquers all” was successfully avoided, and with a little suspension of disbelief and from a romance reader’s point of view, the solution they found was beautiful and uplifting.
Parts of the background of this story were just as amicably detailed as the characters, namely the tattooing and Gabe’s artistic work. Other things were so sketchy they were hard to comprehend, at least for me, for example what happened to Jake directly after his return or how he came to live with his sister in the first place. However, these were minor niggles that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of this story.
If you’re in the mood to accompany Jake and Gabe on their bumpy road to happiness, try this book; for me it was an intense and very enjoyable ride.